I noticed yesterday that my bike seemed not to start quite as quickly sometimes so I changed the sparkplug before going to bed. I am hoping this will make a difference this morning as I want to make an early start and have a fast ride down the Dempster. There is another biker from Pennsylvania in the campground and I hear his bike fire up at about 7-ish (darn I’m late). By the time I get packed…and this morning I stop at a restaurant for my ham and eggs…it’s about 9 before I leave town.
Interesting experience in the restaurant, my waitress looks vaguely familiar. When I pay my bill and am chatting with the hostess, I find out that my waitress just graduated from our local high school. As it turns out, she was in a jazz group that performed for my Rotary Club at our annual “Breakfast Meeting at the High School.” This young lady had moved from Inuvik to Chilliwack for high school and was now back at home contemplating her future. What a great adventure and opportunity for a young person. I am sure that with a start to life like that, she has a fantastic future in store.
I gassed up last night but on my way out of town I do stop for an obligatory picture of where the ice road officially begins when freeze up occurs (yes they actually do have a highway sign with the arrows for Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk pointing to the water channel!). Then we are out of town, past the airport off the pavement and back onto 750 km of gravel. The bike is running strong and changing the plug was a good idea.
Remember, the first part of the trip was the most challenging when I came up because of the “marbles” they add to the surface here in NWT. I get back into the “groove” (no pun intended) and the kilometres roll by. It seems a little easier when I’m fresh for the day (but I wonder what the south end will be like – will it be as easy when I’m tired as it was when I was fresh the other day?).
I’ve heard that Highways was applying calcium chloride to the road as a dust suppressant today and I do come across a few places where that it evident on my way to the first crossing at Tsiigehtchic (Arctic Red River). Fortunately most spots it is avoidable (once it gets on your vehicle, it is very difficult to get off and can be very damaging to painted surfaces). Arriving at the ferry, I’m waved to the front of the line where two other bikes are waiting. I chat with the riders a bit but something seems off about the conversation (maybe my brain is a little off this morning…I ask questions and get responses that indicate I should know this stuff….I’m feeling a bit confused).
Rolling off the ferry on the west side of the Mackenzie I bolt off leading the pack toward Ft McPherson (I know I travel faster than they do). While I ride, I ponder the strangeness of that early morning conversation. I realize that I had been talking with Steve (the guy from Langley I had met in Watson Lake and had breakfast with yesterday and sat with at the BBQ) and Neil, I’m not sure where my head was…how embarrassing.....a short circuit in my head….very strange!!
I stop at Fort McPherson to “top off the tank”. To find the fuel station I actually have to come into town and explore a bit. I wander through the adjacent grocery store and pick up a litre of water to refill my hydration pack. Outside, I contemplate looking further for the memorial site of “The Lost Patrol” but decide I need to make miles if I plan to get off the Dempster today. As I leave, Steve and Neil are just pulling in and talking about a lunch break.
There is a little more traffic waiting at the next ferry but we are still waved to the front. One of the semi truck drivers opines that not everyone is going to get on this next ferry to which there is general acknowledgement. He then looks at me and the two other bikers and asks if anyone wants a picture of one of the real “Ice Road Truckers?” When no one pulled out a camera, he went on to tell us about his job on the show as a grader operator in Season One and then told stories about working on the real ice road and the people he has known who have gone through the ice. “Some have lived, some have flown away,” he said. I thought back to a time when I worked in the oilpatch and remembered people getting badly hurt on the job. I heard about people dying but don’t recall every personally knowing someone killed on the job. Back then there was no such thing as grief counselling or employee assistance programs – I wonder if that has changed? How much support is there for guarding and protecting the mental health of people who work in blue collar and industrial jobs? It is an interesting “wonder about” that I ponder in the back of my mind while I battle the gravel heading south.
Arriving at Eagle Plains, I am chilled and in need of a break. I have caught my “co-camper” from Pennsylvania who has just fuelled up and will be staying in Eagle Plains for night. There is also a rider heading north who fuels up and we end up sitting at adjacent tables in the restaurant.
Jay is a businessman from Seattle on a big BMW GS. We talk about the road and conversation shifts to our own “real world” outside of this trip. He talks about the competition in his business and we share how technology allows us to do so many things we couldn’t even think about a few years ago. How technology increases productivity and yet allows us to be more isolated and independent than ever before. Although we don’t discuss it, I wonder how much this increased isolation contributes to the rising rates of depression?
When we settle our bills with the waitress we discover, as she puts it, “we’re all from the same ‘hood.” She is up from Vancouver for a summer job. Came to the Yukon for a travelling adventure, needed some money and landed the job at Eagle Plains (it is a little smaller and more remote than she expected but the money is good).
As we suit up outside to leave, I notice Jay programming his GPS before heading north and I wave good luck to him as my motorcycle heads for the south. Although he had advised the road and weather was good coming out of Dawson, I see dark clouds on the horizon and wonder if I’m going to get into some of the famous Dempster “greasy when wet” clay.
Similar to the prairies where you can see rain coming for miles before it hits, as I progress south, I can see that I will likely arrive in Dawson a little wet. I pass through a few showers along the way but I’m far enough south by the time they hit that I’m off the Dempster clay and there is enough gravel on the road to reduce treachery. I’ve dodged another bullet.
I pull into the fuel stop at the Dempster corner having noted my low fuel light for most of the past hour, I now know I’m very close to the end of my tank. As I pull off my helmet I hear another customer being told that the power has been out for over three hours and as a result there is no fuel available. Apparently a lightening strike over in Mayo (about 160 km to the south east) has taken out the power in the whole region. Dawson City has its own backup generators so there is fuel there. I head down the road to Dawson and after fifteen kilometres, I have to pull to the side of the road and add gas from my spare fuel can, my engine had quit.
I pulled into the Bonanza RV Park where I had previously stayed and asked if I could have a room for the night. As I moved my bags from the bike into the room, a torrential downpour started that continued well into the night. A room had been a very good idea.